Stop Managing Millennials: Manage The Individual

By 2015, Millennials will represent the largest generational cohort in the workforce. If you believe some of the leading news sources, this will be the apocalypse. According to them, Millennials are strange creatures that do not play by the old rules of the workplace.

If you ask me, this sensationalism hardly qualifies as journalism. Millennials are not much different than the generations that came before them. Worse, when people buy in to the myth that Millennials are an entirely new breed, they try to manage Millennials as a group. In reality, they should concentrate on managing Millennials as individuals. When you try to manage a group instead of a person, you start stereotyping — and this can lead to huge mistakes in the war for top talent.

Millennials, Boomers, And Generation X: More Similar Than You Think

An organization’s ability to attract, develop, retain, and utilize millennial workers will be key in winning the war for top talent. However, if companies try to win over millennial talent by acting according to stereotypes about how “different” Millennials are, they will fail.

In a global workforce study in 2007 and 2008, Towers Perrin discovered that Millennials want the same things as their predecessors. All generations consider competitive base pay to be the Number One driver of job attraction; all generations are more likely to stay with companies that offer excellent career advancement opportunities; and the primary driver of engagement for all generations is feeling good about the company they work for.

The Difference Is Age, Not Generation

People will tell you that these Millennials are more willing to leave employers because that’s just the way they are: disloyal. The truth is, career mobility has more do with age and stage of life than it does with generation. Young people are also much freer to move around than their elders, so if better opportunities exist outside their company, young Millennials are more able to take advantage of them than Baby Boomers or Generation X-ers are.

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If you look across generations, you’ll see that Millennials generally follow the same career arcs as those before them. For example, in one of my speeches, I describe a career experience to the audience and ask them which generation it represents. Most of the time, the audience guesses that I am describing a Millennial career path. In reality, I am describing my own— the career of a front-end Baby Boomer. I use this exercise to illustrate the importance of managing to the individual, rather than allowing cohort labels to influence the way that we manage people.

Winning The War For Talent

If you want to win the war for talent, you need to pay attention to the things that are true across all generational groups. If you manage according to the individual, you need no concern for generational differences. People simply want to be engaged by what they do every day. Provide that engagement, and you can attract members of any generational group.

Don’t get distracted. Human nature is consistent. Millennials may look different and have a different set of toys and tools, but they want and need the same things that all of the people in the workplace aspire to and deserve. Be smart. Give the people what they want.